In an industry that still favours male actors, creatively and financially, women are taking the initiative to create their opportunities by starting their own successful production companies.
What do you do if you’re a talented actress working in an industry where the highest paid actress of 2016 is still earning less than the top FIVE highest paid actors? Where women of colour are overlooked for roles that should be played by women of colour, for white women who are viewed as more ‘marketable’? You stop just getting angry at the problem and create your own solutions.
Actresses launching production companies is nothing new. Drew Barrymore launched Flower Films in 1995, and has worked on everything from Donnie Darko to Charlie’s Angels. Queen Latifah launched Flavour Unit in the same year, signing a major deal with cable television channel Centric in 2014, aimed at producing content for black women. Charlize Theron launched her company more than a decade ago, Salma Hayek launched one in 1999 that has an Oscar-nominated title to its name, and Natalie Portman’s company is behind some of the biggest rom-coms of the last few years.
But recently the companies have been getting bigger and the projects more ambitious. Women are no longer waiting for the roles they want – they can create them, support them and, in doing so, support fellow women in the industry. Both Kerry Washington and Viola Davis have launched independent production companies, Simpson Street and JuVee Productions respectively, and in April both signed major deals with ABC Studios to develop new projects for broadcast and streaming services – proving that the stories of women, and particularly women of colour, can be seen as creatively and commercially viable.
Jessica Chastain launched her new production company Freckle Films in 2016 and is working on a number of new projects including the true story of the Black Mambas, the all female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, and an adaptation of the The Magician’s Lie. If that wasn’t keeping her busy enough, she has also joined Queen Latifah, Juliette Binoche and Catherine Hardwick on the advisory board of We Do It Together, a production outfit aimed at providing more diverse opportunities for women in film.
Reese Witherspoon launched Type A more than a decade ago but never amassed more than a few production credits. Fast forward to 2011 when the old company was revamped into Pacific Standard and by the end of 2014 it had three Oscar nominations for work on Gone Girl and Wild – both critical and commercial successes, both starring complex leading women.
In 2015, Priyanka Chopra launched Purple Pebble Pictures in Mumbai, a key player in producing small budget films providing a platform for emerging talent. In Bollywood, where big-budget largely Hindi language releases still reign supreme, the company is carving a name for itself in supporting regional cinema, with Punjabi, Marathi, and Bengali films all in the works.
But there is always room for more powerful women in the film industry. Alicia Vikander is working on the first film under her Vikarious Productions label which will also star Eva Green. Vikander was inspired to get more actively involved in creating opportunity after realising that she had made ‘five films in a row before I had a scene with another woman’. Haitian-born actress Garcelle Beauvias, has also announced a new production venture, and will be returning to screens soon in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The list of course continues – actresses including Elizabeth Banks, Rose Byrne, and Brit Marling can count themselves as seasoned professionals working on everything from comedy to psychological thrillers. Women are proving once again that they are fully capable of doing it for themselves.
Words: Gurnesha Bola